One of the central ramifications to the Calvinistic understanding of Total Depravity as total inability is the idea that people are not even able to believe in Jesus for eternal life. The reason Calvinists have this idea is because they view faith as a meritorious act of the will. They believe that faith is a work, and therefore, since people cannot do any good works, people cannot have faith.
In other words, due to their emphasis on the inability of mankind to do anything good at all, and because of the impression that faith is something we do, Calvinists conclude that humans cannot believe in Jesus for eternal life. Calvinists argue that if people were able to believe in Jesus for eternal life, then this is something that they are doing, and therefore, their faith is meritorious before God. All of this is because of their view that faith is a sort of good work.
But don’t take my word for it. Here is what some leading Calvinists have to say about the idea that faith is a work:
Faith itself is man’s act or work and is thereby excluded from being any part of his justifying righteousness. It is one thing to be justified by faith merely as an instrument by which man receives the righteousness of Christ, and another to be justified FOR faith as an act or work of the law. If a sinner, then, relies on his actings of faith or works of obedience to any of the commands of the law for a title to eternal life, he seeks to be justified by works of the law as much as if his works were perfect. If he depends either in whole or in part, on his faith and repentance for a right to any promised blessing, he thereby so annexes that promise to the commands to believe and repent as to form them for himself into a covenant of works. Building his confidence before God upon his faith, repentance and other acts of obedience, he places them in Christ’s stead as his grounds of right to the promise and so he demonstrates himself to be of the works of the law and so be under the curse (Colquhoun, A Treatise).
According to the Reformed doctrine, total depravity makes man morally incapable of making a virtuous choice [of faith] … If total depravity does anything, it renders a man totally unable because he is indisposed to respond to the overtures of grace. If [a person] maintains that man is morally able to respond to the gospel, then [that person] does not believe that man is totally depraved at all (Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing, 109).
The Arminian acknowledges that faith is something a person does. It is a work, though not a meritorious one. Is it a good work? Certainly it is not a bad work. It is good for a person to trust in Christ and in Christ alone for his or her salvation. Since God commands us to trust in Christ, when we do so we are obeying this command. But all Christians agree that faith is something we do. God does not do the believing for us. … Then why say that Arminianism “in effect” makes faith a meritorious work? Because the good response people make to the gospel becomes the ultimate determining factor in salvation. I often ask my Arminian friends why they are Christians and other people are not. They say it is because they believe in Christ while others do not. Then I inquire why they believe and others do not? “Is it because you are more righteous than the person who abides in unbelief?” They are quick to say no. “Is it because you are more intelligent?” Again the reply is negative. They say that God is gracious enough to offer salvation to all who believe and that one cannot be saved without that grace. But this grace is cooperative grace. Man in his fallen state must reach out and grasp this grace by an act of the will, which is free to accept or reject this grace. Some exercise the will rightly (or righteously), while others do not. When pressed on this point, the Arminian finds it difficult to escape the conclusion that ultimately his salvation rests on some righteous act of the will he has performed (Sproul, Willing to Believe, 25-26).
To rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other (Packer, Bondage of the Will, 59).
We will discuss this concept in great detail in later posts, and even look at several of the key texts they use to defend the idea that faith is a work, but for now, what are your thoughts on this Calvinistic teaching that faith is a work? Share your thoughts in the comments below!If you want to read more about Calvinism, check out other posts in this blog series: Words of Calvinism and the Word of God.